Gov. Eric Holcomb on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Indiana General Assembly and legislative leaders of his own party, challenging the constitutionality of a new law that weakens his emergency powers and was enacted by fellow Republicans over the governor’s veto.
Later in the day, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita—also a Republican—suggested Holcomb had no authority to file the suit.
The lawsuit, filed in Marion Circuit Court, alleges that the Legislature “impermissibly attempted to give itself the ability to call special [legislative] sessions, thereby usurping a power given exclusively to the governor under Article 4-9 of the Indiana Constitution.”
The suit says the new law’s “very existence has created uncertainty and confusion. This controversy must be resolved as soon as possible or the consequences could be severe, including disruption to Indiana and the proper functioning of state government—something that concerns every Hoosier.”
The law was enacted by the Legislature’s Republican supermajorities on April 15 when the Indiana House and Senate voted to override the governor’s veto of House Enrolled Act 1123. The action came in the aftermath of emergency measures imposed by the governor during the COVID-19 pandemic, which at times have limited occupancy at some businesses and mandated the wearing of masks.
The new law grants the Legislature the authority to terminate such emergency orders issued by the governor.
While legislative leaders have publicly praised Holcomb’s actions during the pandemic, they say the new law is necessary to allow lawmakers to have input during extended emergency situations. Some lawmakers have grumbled about the extended period of time some of the governor’s restrictions remained in place.
The two top legislative leaders, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray and House Speaker Todd Huston, are specifically named as defendants in the governor’s lawsuit.
They said in written statements that they were anticipating the governor’s lawsuit.
“We are in consultation with the Indiana Attorney General’s Office on what the next steps will be in this matter,” Huston said.
The Republican family feud widened Tuesday afternoon as Rokita entered the fray.
The attorney general suggested in a written statement that Indiana provides him the authority to resolve disputes when two parts of state government disagree. He said this is necessary “so that Indiana speaks in court with a single legal voice.”
He also suggested that outside counsel should not be authorized to represent the governor in such a case. But Holcomb is being represented by the outside law firm of Lewis Wagner, including attorneys John Trimble, A. Richard Blaiklock, Aaron Grant and Michael Heavilon.
Rachel Hoffmeyer, the governor’s press secretary, acknowledged that Rokita denied the governor’s request to hire outside counsel.
“We believe under the unique circumstance of this situation that his approval is not necessary,” Hoffmeyer said in an email. “The positions taken by the attorney general were known, discussed and fully evaluated. Gov. Holcomb made it known that he and his legal team disagreed with those positions which will be decided by the court.”
The governor’s lawsuit alleges the new law is a clear violation of the separation of powers between Indiana’s legislative and executive branches of government. It asks for a permanent injunction and a declaratory judgment to deem the new law unconstitutional and prevent it from being used.
“I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the state of Indiana and I have an obligation do so,” Holcomb said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “This filing is about the future of the executive branch and all the governors who will serve long after I’m gone.”
The Associated Press and The Indiana Lawyer contributed to this report.